Bottom Line; SyCip on Nation-Building

Manila Bulletin, January 31, 2007 | Go to article overview

Bottom Line; SyCip on Nation-Building


Byline: Michael Alan Hamlim

Asia's strongest economies got that way because the introduction of democracy followed the attainment of broad prosperity on a national level according to Washington SyCip, SGV founder and internationally respected businessman. Before members of the Management Association of the Philippines last week he argued that the Philippines, in contrast to its fast-developed and developing neighbors, has "failed miserably" in part because the "elements of democracy" were forced on the Philippines before its people were wealthy enough to cope with them.

SyCip has long complained that western development models don't work in Asia. Last week, he cited the miserable experience of the US in Iraq to suggest that they may no longer work anywhere. Instead, he suggested that for the Philippines to grow it must address critical issues that have "plagued the Philippines for fifty years." Those issues are elevating respect for the Rule of Law and undoing the economic domination of the elites to, well, democratize economic opportunity.

The passion and relative vigor with which SyCip makes his argument reveals a profound dismay with the country of his birth and its dramatic failure to live up to its promise in a region characterized by extraordinary success stories. Indeed, many accomplished Filipinos and their friends share that deep disappointment. But while there are elements of truth and accuracy in SyCip's view of the Philippine tragedy, if that tragedy is to be reversed it is necessary to address the real reasons the nation lives in the shadow of most of Asia.

SyCip argues, for instance, that national unity has been an important contributing factor to economic growth throughout Asia, even suggesting that former president Ferdinand Marcos' catastrophic administration may have been handicapped more by disunity than by greed, corruption, and immoral politics. A quick look around Asia demonstrates very clearly that national unity has had little to do with nurturing prosperity.

This is true even in Japan, a country once known as the land of a thousand kingdoms. Japan's military complex used the Japanese Emperor Hirohito to convince a diverse Japanese population with widely varying social customs and traditions, cuisine, and dialects to unite behind a war that would destroy the Japanese economy, demonstrating that unity can be used for evil purposes with disastrous as well as good ones.

The Japan example provides at least two other counterpoints to SyCip's arguments. Japan rebuilt its economy from the ashes of World War II while it was introducing the elements of democracy that SyCip claims have no place in a developing scenario.

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